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Beyond the Website: How three agencies successfully embraced the new rules of digital marketing

Digital marketing has changed significantly over the past three years. We’ve observed that the marketing elements that orbit your site have matured to become far more important, powerful, and complex than the website itself.

During this webinar, we speak with three agencies who have successfully navigated what we’ve come to call “The Great Inversion” of digital marketing, and learn how these changes will affect the way you approach your digital lead development today.

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Transcript

Mark O’Brien: All right, let’s get  going. Again, I’m Mark O’Brien the CEO of Newfangled. Welcome to our webinar titled “Beyond The Website.” Today, we’re going to focus specifically on three agencies stories. We’re actually joined by those three agencies, which I’m incredibly excited about. You’ll get to see them and hear from them shortly. Basically, we can go through two different steps today. First, we’re going to talk about what this idea of Beyond The Website really means. We’re only going to spend a few minutes on that because we want to get right to the agencies stories themselves. I want to set the stage properly, so you understand the overall context. Then we’re going to get into these stories.

We’ve got Crux Collaborative with us, FARM and Oliver Russell. Extraordinary agencies from different parts of the country. Different areas of focus. Different cultures. They’ve got their own unique stories to tell. I think you’ll find there’re a lot of themes, among those different stories. We’re really excited about that. Then we want to make sure that we’re leaving enough time for Q&A at the end. This whole webinar will take about an hour, probably max an hour. We’ll end at 1pm Eastern. I’m hoping we can leave enough time for 10 to 15 minutes of Q&A at the end. The agencies will be staying on with us. You can actually ask questions directly of them, which is encouraged because this is all about them.

While you’re thinking of your questions, if something comes up, if something pops into your mind, I highly encourage you to go and take that opportunity to go and type that question into the question panel inside the Go-To-Webinar that you see in the right hand side by them. Just go ahead and ask your question as it comes up. At the end, I’ll be sorting through and getting through as many questions as I possibly can. Let’s begin here. This idea of Beyond The Website. What are we talking about? Basically, some of you may have read the white paper that we put out a month or so ago, called The Great Inversion. The idea of The Great Inversion is that, while the website itself is absolutely critical to your marketing, it’s not the most complicated part of it.

It’s not going to do a job on it’s own. In fact, it’s wholly reliant upon these other tools that you see. These are tools and system and approaches that you see in the screen such as CRM. Tools like Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, Sugar those are all different examples of customer relationship management tools. Marketing automation. Tools like Pardot and Act-On and Marketo. We have that, and at the middle level here, we’ve got Contact Strategy and Content Strategy. Having the right volume of people in your pipeline and on your mailing list, so that you’re spreading your message to the right level of audience. You’ve got enough people to actually move the needle for your business development efforts. Then your content strategy, which you heard us talk about before a lot, if you’ve ever joined in our webinars. content surely came up in some form.This idea of regularly creating thought leadership content and adding it to your website on monthly basis.

Also at the bottom here: positioning. What’s your unique value proposition? How do you stand out in the market place? What differentiates you? Having all six of these things in harmony, is what is absolutely required to create an effective marketing platform for your agency. An effective marketing platform is judged solely by one thing. Is the platform generating right fit leads for your firm? Is it doing that? If it’s doing that, it’s working. If it’s not doing that, it’s not. A lot of marketing solutions and marketing solutions given towards agencies, they focus on soft easy metrics such as number of clicks or number of keywords you’re writing for. Even down to number of words of content… things like that. All those things contribute to what’s necessary.

But, they’re not enough on their own. They all add up to this goal of regularly generating these right fit leads. All these things come together. While the website is still absolutely the hub, it needs all these other elements in order to function properly. What we’re going to do today, is we’re going to speak with three different agencies, three different firms, the first of which is Crux Collaborative. They’re joined by John Golden and Gregg Harrison. Guys, if you’re here why don’t you go ahead and turn your webcam on. Hello, there?

John: Hello.

Mark: How are you?

John: Pretty good. Can you hear us up here?

Mark: Good. Excellent. All right. Crux is a user experience consulting firm for regulated industries. Can you tell us something about that? What does that mean specifically?

John: We are a UX consulting firm. We’re very specialized in terms of the services that we offer. We specifically work usually, with large companies that are in regulated industries such as financial services, health care, insurance benefits, and medical.

Mark: Mm-hmm. Excellent. I would say this is an example of an extremely focused unique value proposition.

John: Yeah. We started out as a usability firm. We’ve been in this phase quite a bit. What we’ve done over the last, I would say three years is more narrowly positioned ourselves in doing a much broader type of work. We’re taking more things in that weren’t necessarily the greatest fit for the business. Now, we’ve been very focused especially around this position. It’s been very effective for us as a whole because there aren’t very many people especially locally in our Minneapolis market, that do exactly what we do.

Mark: Great, right, absolutely. That’s the thing that we see regularly. Once an agency does commit to a specific market focus, that’s the first step on an endless journey. You refine it and refine it, as years go on. Really, you guys were quite pleased opening a usability firm 15 years ago. You were ahead of your time with that.

John: Yeah. We had started very small. We were just two people at that time. We were really focused exclusively on usability testing and that sort of thing. It sort of evolved. From there, we had to tell people exactly how to fix the usability flaws and their application in websites. It made sense to be able to do that from our design standpoint.

Mark: Yeah, absolutely, of course. In terms of the stuff we have here on the screen, I’m actually missing an element here. We’ve got 3,721 emails on your contact list. You’re sending roughly two emails per month to that contact list. You’re publishing 3 to 4 indexible articles on your site per month.

John: Yeah, usually it’s been about once a week that we publish something. Sometimes if things get busy though, they’re will be a little bit closer together. We’ve been pretty consistent in and out for the last year. We started out as once a month when we just began and now once we implemented this program, we moved up to once a week.

Mark: That’s another trend that we see regularly. You start by taking steps, basic steps, but once you start to see some traction with this. Once you start to see the gears turn and the right people start to show up, you invest more and you start to create more content and the machine just sort of grows slowly over time. That’s definitely a trend that we see with a lot of the agencies that we work with.

Gregg: I think that the specialization in particular, the more we specialize our services, the easier it’s been to write content around that specialty. Just because you have something more valuable to say, the more focused your specialization is. This is what we found.

Mark: Yep. That’s precisely how it goes. It’s interesting right? Those two elements we’ve mentioned that are constantly evolving. Your specialization which has refined quite a bit over the past 15 years and I’m sure it’ll continue to, right?

Gregg: Yeah.

Mark: The more you specialize, the more you have to write about. Which seems like a paradox on the surface because a lot of agencies resist this idea of focus. They think it’ll be boring and there won’t be enough to do or to think about. The inverse is true. The finer point you put on it, the more and more you know. There more there is, there’s an endless stream of intelligence that is there to be tapped into if you’re willing to pursue true deep expertise.

Gregg: Yeah. Obviously, it’s important to find that sweet spot where your specialty isn’t so narrow that there aren’t enough folks out there in the market place who need your services. It’s focused enough where you can provide a substance in the amount of value to the people looking for that service. If you find there’s a really rightful way to market, … We found equilibrium right now in the market place, I do think it would be nice if more product folks out there knew that there were agencies like us that existed. That’s why we’re doing this, obviously is to evangelize the fact that this specialty exists. You don’t have to go to an advertising agency to build your application, to build your product. You can come to us and we’ve got the specialty. We do this specifically.

Mark: Yeah, and that’s the trend that we see. Many businesses are choosing specialists. They’re willing to sort of corral a group of specialists to get the best of what they need in each category they need. That’s definitely a market trying to change quite a bit in the past two years. If you guys could do me a favor and talk about two things. First, if you guys could give us a brief recap of your marketing history. What has marketing looked like for Crux? What has happened in the past year in terms of marketing, the way you’ve approached it? Then, lets talk about a quick case study of what the product of that marketing has been.

John: Sure. Well, I would say we didn’t have any marketing. I would say we were 100% repeat customers. We are 100% referral business. What would happen is, we would just kind of wait to see what came in the door. We had some standards sort of big clients that we had big accounts with, that would give us work consistently. We recognized, of course, that that was a little bit scary position to be in as a firm. We wanted to get ahead of that curve a little bit in terms of … There’s more people doing UX work now. We weren’t as much of a unicorn as we were when we got into the business. What we recognized is that we needed to have a little bit more specialized position. Which is what we did. We were working predominantly with the types of companies that we were … Then we started this email campaign. Working with the Act-On software that provides us with a look at metrics and who’s coming to decide what people are looking at.

I think that it’s provided us with a much better way to focus that position even further. Target the type of people that would go after our services. Watching it actually work, I think was … we were a little bit skeptical in the beginning. We weren’t like hunting for business but we wanted to take it up a notch. I feel like what was really fun is that watching it actually work. In terms of sending of emails out. At first, you don’t give it much response and then all of a sudden there were things that started to surface.

People started to resonate with the content. Somebody that would contact to say, “We’ve been looking for a firm like you for the last two months, it seems like you’re very specialized in what we do. We have not found anybody that does it to the level and degree that you do it.” This is all based on article that they read versus doing a pitch to show them the work that we do. There you have the mindset in play when they contacted us. It was a fairly easy way for us to then close the business, as they already knew that we were what we’ve said we were by reading the information on our site.

Gregg: I think it’s been two things. It’s definitely the content. Bringing the content out there has definitely improved and increased in other people contacting us but more importantly in that, is has improved our conversion rate. When we go in for that meeting and we’re actually talking about our capabilities or presenting a proposal, the ground work is already laid. They know we’re experts. They’ve read what’s on our site. They understand our specialty. They understand our expertise. We’re just there to seal the deal, and our conversion rate, once we get into those meetings, has been phenomenally improved by having us send content out there.

John: Our traffic has more than doubled in the last year. That’s what we’ve seen. Then you asked about a specific story or case study. The one that I think is one of the best one is, we just won a fairly sizable project with a client that we hadn’t worked with in about 10 years. We put him on our list and we sent him a few emails. I noticed that he came into the site. You just kind of notice these things when you watch the stats and the metrics and watch the tool do it’s job. We saw him coming into the site. Saw him come in a few times, he read a few articles and then it was probably about a month and a half ago that he sent an email to me and he said, “Hey, I know we haven’t worked together for awhile, was just 10 years. I have this project that I think is a really good fit for you guys. Would you be interested in talking to us about it?”

It ended up being a perfect fit for us. We won the business and we’re just getting ready to kick off this project with him. It’s that awareness too that he can bring to the table for people that you may not have worked with for awhile, but have a good experience working with you or switched jobs, all of that kind of stuff.

Mark: Yeah, I think we can end the webinar now guys. You’re poster children for this stuff and then next two firms we have also just great. I’ll admit, Lauren Siler and I were in Cincinnati yesterday to do a client kick off and I got home really late, I’m a little tired but I’m actually getting a little actually teary eyed hearing this story because that’s it. That’s just beautiful to hear all of those things in detail and from the beginning like the skepticism… of course you are skeptical. And that’s the thing. So many agencies have tried so many different approaches to marketing and there are so many services out there vying for your marketing dollars and promising all kinds of things that look feasible. Everyone’s been burned. Everyone’s gotten false promises. Everyone’s wasted a lot of money. So it’s really hard to commit to marketing. Just emotionally it’s hard to do but everything you are talking about, these are true.

Gregg: It was never promised that we were going to do nothing and lose 30 pounds. The agreement was an investment in who you are as a business and talking about who you are as a business and evangelizing who you are as a business and in return, these things will happen. I think that that sounded, that value proposition sounded legitimate to us, we were obviously skeptical and concerned that we didn’t have anything to say about ourselves but over time we’ve learned and refined and really now we believe in it and now it’s just part of what we do.

Mark: Right, its part of the culture. It’s never going away now, it’s part of Crux. It’s integral.

John: I think we were lucky in the fact that the staff really embraced it. We have everyone here writes. Not as often, some people don’t do it as much as others. The principles, so myself and Mahtab who is not here and Gregg, we primarily write the vast majority of the content. Especially content that’s more what Newfangled calls evaluator content, so people that would evaluate your business in order to buy the services versus the practitioners do more of what they would call researcher content. Where they’re doing more things about how a process works or what we do, or that type of thing.

Mark: Well, that’s great. We need to move on to the next firm but just to recap a few key elements that you mentioned I think that is really important. Gregg, one of the first things you mentioned was how the practice of writing the content itself has refined your own understanding of what you do.

Gregg: Absolutely yes.

Mark: Watching what’s resonating with the prospects for all these tracking tools, saying, “Okay, this is what’s being really valued.” That’s huge and that plane never stops. The expertise development, documenting expertise and just by the fact of documenting the expertise actually having a stronger command of it, all of that. Then John, what you mentioned really got the power dynamic in the buyer-seller relationship. When they discover you as an expert, when they just ask Google a question, Google says, “Okay these guys.” When they get an email from you that happens to be the right article at the right time, which is a numbers game (that’s why we recommend the 3000 contacts, the 3000 words of content per month, the one to four emails per month). Volume matters so we increase our chances of getting the right message to the right person at the right time based on whatever they are thinking about. 

When that happens, you are the expert. Gregg as you mentioned, then selling is closing. It’s not convincing at all. It’s saying, “Okay this is who we are, you already know who we are, can we help?” That’s how it goes. Selling in that way also is full of integrity. It feels good to sell that way.

Gregg: Very true. You’re selling something you know you are good at. In fact when we don’t sell and people around here are not busy, I feel bad because these people are too good at their jobs and too specialized to be slow.

Mark: Yeah right, I love it. Guys, thank you so much. Stick around please and we’re going to bring everybody back in for the Q&A at the end but that was a wonderful kickoff to this. Thanks very much. Now let’s transition over to Jill and Ashley from FARM. Jill and Ashley are you there?

Jill: Yes we are here.

Mark: Hello.

Jill: Hi.

Mark: How are you?

Jill: Good.

Mark: Great. Thanks so much for joining, really appreciate having you on. Those Crux guys are a tough act to follow, but I think you’re going to be able to do a great job of it.

Jill: I think we can do it.

Mark: I think so too. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about FARM and also about the idea of idea about cultivation?

Jill: Sure. Our agency is FARM. The name FARM and the whole tag line and idea of cultivation agency is really synonymous with growth. That’s what we do. We do all the things that a full service marketing agency would do and more to help our clients grow their businesses. Whether that’s doing marketing research to help them uncover insights that will help them from an operational standpoint, as well as a marketing standpoint. Then translating those insights into strategic marketing plans and then executing those plans. We do everything that full servicing marketing agency would do but more.

Mark: Okay, great, excellent. You are in the greater Buffalo area of New York?

Jill: Yes that’s we are.

Mark: It’s about 30 minutes to Buffalo?

Ashley: Like 15 minutes I live in downtown Buffalo so we’re very close.

Mark: Some basic stats here, we want to look at this beyond that website idea, 7,500 contacts, one to five emails sent per month between the different ways you do email your contacts, 8 indexable articles published per month and 30 years in business so lots of pretty strong stats there.

Jill: Sure thanks.

Mark: Let’s talk about how you used to market FARM and how you market FARM now. What did it look like and what is today’s reality?

Jill: Sure, I’ll take how we used to market FARM. A lot of our new business efforts have always been through relationships and then also a number of just answering RFPs, doing cold calling, kind of a lot of that cold, “Hey we’re a marketing agency. Get to know us.” Without offering anything of value from a content perspective, we probably had a blog for 4 or 5 years but in the beginning it was somebody in the digital department who said, “We need a blog. Blogging is what everyone does, so let’s get a blog.” We would put out things like, “Here’s a picture of somebody wearing something funny today or here’s a recap of the barbecue we had with our staff.” It was a lot of culture-based things, and we eventually evolved over the past couple of years into sending our monthly newsletter. Every month we would have a meeting with a group of people that were involved in the newsletter and we’d brainstorm things to put in the newsletter and that’s where our blog came from. We would say, “Here’s 4 topics we want to talk about,” and then we made those into blog posts and put them in the newsletter. There was no strategy behind it. It was just kind of, “Oh this TV commercial is really cool. Let’s write a review of that and what we would have done differently,” or, “Here’s an event coming up that we are going to write a little about that.” There was no strategy behind that. Ashley is going to talk about how we moved into what we do now.

Mark: Ashley, if I could interrupt you for just for a minute right there, just to talk about what you just mentioned Jill. The theme of that that’s so important. The story you just told, I think any agency on this webinar could probably tell. That’s how everyone gone through their way. We have to have a blog. Everyone’s blogging. We need to do it. What do we do? I don’t know. Let’s just talk about the culture.

Jill: It’s the same thing with our social media channels for a long time. We’re suggesting social media, we’re working with social media with clients and we’re telling them, “You should have a content calendar. You should have strategy. You should plan out what you’re going to post and when and why.” For ourselves we’re like, “Well,” me and Ashley are like, “Okay, it’s Wednesday, what are going to post? Let’s just post this funny picture.” Or we just write this and then we’ll figure it out on the fly. We really kind of want to cross all of those channels.

Mark: Yeah. You know, that white paper we published mid last quarter that was a key element that Lauren mentioned is that, for so long content is being produced just for content sake. This whole idea of “Is content marketing dead? Is there too much content in the web?” Well, in one respect the answer is yes. It’s absolutely dead and there is too much content in the web but it’s that kind of stuff. The expertise as a marketing platform, a real platform based in expertise will never die. That’s not going to go away. Education real education, there’s no way that’s going to fizzle out. In other stuff has seen its day come and go. Ashley, what does it look like today, the past year?

Ashley: The past year was a big year for us. We really laid the foundation for our content strategy. We started working with Newfangled back in February 2015. We’re over a year now. The first thing we really tackled was our content strategy. We were looking at what kind of blogs we were producing, seeing how culture heavy they were, how can we really establish more of system for organization and set up some goals consistently meet those goals. We first started by determining who our target personas were. We did that by looking at the different industries that we thrive in and that we really feel like we have the expertise and the knowledge based on our experience and our work and the clients we work with. We determined that we had 6 industries that we wanted to focus on. That was insurance, financial services, motels and energy and automotive and health care.

Mark: A lot. Just those six.

Jill: It’s a couple.

Ashley: What we did is, we worked with you guys on determining who the decisions makers are at our target number of prospects. That the companies that we wanted we want to be working with. Who are the people that are going to be making those decisions when it’s comes to marketing. Then looking for an agency. We wanted to create content that was really going to resonate with them and be valuable to them versus just adding one. Each of those industries is different so there’s different ways to talk to them. We went through an exercise where we created this whole matrix on what those decisions makers would want to hear. How we would talk to them. What kind of content would resonate with them. That took a little while working with the teams here who works on that business. Jill was a huge part of that because she’s kind of worked on a lot of industries that we’d focus on. She’s been here for a while.

It was going through that and then working with our staff and determining who was going to be able to help us generate that content and create that content. Determining who was going to be writing the content, who’ll kind of manage it. Who’d make sure that it’s happening and that we’re meeting those goals. The goals we set up were to have two blogs a week. Then we were producing eight blogs in a month which is where we are at now. We really hit those six industries. In addition to that, we have maybe one culture post or we’d have one that kind of focus on some of our areas of expertise like media or public relations. It kind of rotated for those ones each month as well.

From there, we could pull and choose a couple blogs from that, that we had already had published that month and put those in our newsletter and pushed that out to our contacts and our list management system. It was a big year in getting everyone on board. It takes a lot of time and we were really invested in it and we wanted to make sure we were producing good content. There as lot of back and forth, working with people at the agency to create even if just like editing the blogs and making sure that they were really providing something of value. I can’t say that enough but we wanted quality work put out there and there was a lot of trial and error. We had spent a lot of time on it but now it’s really up and running, which is been great. It’s kind of running itself a little it we have the team managing it and we’ve got more people on board with it. It’s like our stuff are excited about it because we’ve actually had some results from it too.

Mark: Since you’ve just very clearly detailed the deep reality of what this looks like. That needs to be spoken too and this is not easy.

Ashley: Yeah, it’s time consuming but it’s worth it once you start seeing those results, you really have to just be prepared to put some time into it and get people on board with it and focus on it.

Jill: I think one thing that, like you said, it’s very time consuming. One thing to think about going into it is that you have to set yourself up with the right expectations and with the short term goals. We originally thought, “Cool, we’re going to get this stuff running his month, and then the next month we’re going to have 16 specialized newsletters for each of our different things. Then we’re going to do this.” We realized that, “Yeah, we’re still trying to edit this person’s blog that they wrote two weeks ago.” It’s hard to tell some of your staff members that when you read their blogs, that they kind of rewrite that.

You’re looking at going, somebody is going to be this and go, “So what.” You have to make those decisions too on what’s valuable, what’s not but setting those short term goals and saying, “Okay, at the end of the month, this first month we want to have 4 solid blogs. Next month, let’s add one, next month let’s add one.” You’re now streamlining the process, now by the end of the month we’re further on than we were before. Just not setting yourself up for failure by thinking everything is going to be done at once.

Ashley: Then there are multiple steps in the process too: assigning the teams that will be working on it, who’s comfortable doing it, and getting ideas from them or the blogs each month. Also, deciding when you need those ideas by so that we can choose which ones they’re going to write about and assigning that to people. We wanted everyone to be involved in coming up with those ideas as well because we had so many personas we’re focusing on. We wanted to make sure the people who know that industry, are the ones helping generate those ideas and writing that so that it is really knowledgeable and good content.

Mark: Sure, and all critical points but again all a lot of work. What kind of results make it worth your while? You’re not going to do this for nothing.

Ashley: Besides being able to meet all our goals which is exciting to just getting that content out there, and getting good content out there, feels good. But also we have two examples that we’d love to share where we’ve had some results. One was we had a great pitch that came through from a large healthcare company. They found us from the outside of the New York city are and they found us through one of our healthcare articles. They reached out to us and we were part of a very large opportunity pitching them.

Unfortunately, we didn’t win the business but we still had that exposure and had that exercise to go through that and it was a really exciting opportunity for us. Similarly, we had another one in the insurance industry. A large insurance company reached out to us as well through an email. They read one of our blog posts about insurance and specifically about direct mail and the contact who reached out to us runs one of the product lines there in their DM group and reached out to us about a project. We ended up winning the business and we’ve been working with them and we’re working on getting some more business with them. That was a really, really exciting opportunity for us so that proves it does work. They were coming to us and sort of pushing it out. Those were two inbound leads, but now we’re really trying to use our content pushing it out to our target contact list as well.

Mark: With that contact list, that’s substantial. 7,500 people are right there waiting to read your content. That’s a big list. That’s a lot of reach for sure. One thing you mentioned I think is really important this idea of not getting ahead of yourselves. That’s so important, there is a lot of like pent up marketing interests inside of agencies. A lot of the agencies have been wanting to market the right way for a while and once they see something they really believe in, they just want to go for it. You can’t create more time in the day. When you look back, you’ve been in business for 30 years and you finally got on this marketing track that you believe in and that you are hopeful would work for you. You did decide.

You figured out okay we have to pace ourselves here and the idea is progress not perfection, but continual progress. It’s like we were talking about with the Crux guys, it’s an endless road. You are always refining, always improving, always increasing the investment. Maybe you are writing a little more content, maybe you are sending it out to more people, maybe you are investing in different content types, but it’s going to grow and change and you need to be okay with that and not rush yourself. You all are a great example of that.

Ashley: Exactly.

Jill: Thank you. One of the things that we did originally when wanted to educate the staff and get people involved, we went out to our client facing team. We have several teams set up  … A team of creatives and account service and production people, they are all set up in teams to serve the clients that they work on. They are dedicated to those different industries and those different clients. What we did, what we thought would be fair, is that we had each team, one team has all financial clients. We said, “We need a financial blog from you once a month on a topic, give us a topic, we’ll pick one, and then we need you to write one a month.” Although, there’s 10 people on that team so we said, “You can have one person write all of them, you can have two people, you can have all of you rotate. You guys decide as a team what you want to do.” We did that with all our different client facing teams because those are the ones that are really working in the industry. 

As we progressed, some teams found it a great burden and didn’t want to and some teams embraced it and wanted to. There were definitely certain people that rose to the top of being excited about the content, excited to write about blogs, excited to research the topics. In the meantime though, we also developed a content strategy team here at the agency to do more content marketing for our clients. As I said before, we were always recommending this type of thing to our clients. We were the shoemakers’ children that had no shoes. We didn’t follow our own medicine. We created a department that specifically works with our clients and is looking to gain more clients in the realm of content marketing. Ashley and I handed that over to them. They have now taken on the task of making sure that the blogs are done, the topics are right, that we’re creating good content instead of us reading through all of our posts and then doing all that. 

We have this committee if you will, and we let them know who are those top people who love writing blogs. Who did a good job at it. They’re now working with those people to make sure that we cover our industries, get it done all of that. That really helped us with the timing and taking it off of our plates. Now we can focus on using that content as part of the newsletter but also repackaging it in different ways. If someone writes an article about top 5 ways to do something, we are working on taking that type of article and sending an email that says, “Here’s one way to do something, click here for the other four.” Trying to repurpose our articles in different ways. We focus more on outreach part of it.

Mark: Great and well with the Crux conversation, we could probably talk for two hours just us and not be done but we need to move on now to Russell.

Jill: We are better than these other guys? We are better than Crux?

Mark: Way better, and don’t tell them but yeah. If you can hang on for Q&A, that would be great but thank you for that. That was wonderful. Now we’re going to move on to Russ. Russ are you there?

Russell: Hey man I’m here.

Mark: Hey, how is it going there?

Russell: Real good beautiful day here in Boise.

Mark: Is it? What’s the temperature?

Russell: It’s probably at 50s right now pointing towards that low 7os. 

Mark: That is a beautiful day in Boise.

Russell: You bet it is.

Mark: Before we get started here, I’m going to put out a challenge to the audience and the audience is vast. We had over 200 people registered for this so it’s a great crowd today. Any audience member who can figure out by the time my interview with Russ is done, what Russ and I have in common right now, gets a special prize. That’s something that’s out there. If anyone figures it out, we’ll tell what it is at the end anyway but we’ll see if someone figures it out. If you do figure it out, just put it in the Q&A panel and we’ll let you know if you are right. A little bit about Oliver Russell. Russ is one of the truly good guys. Building brands for purpose driven companies. Tell us about it. 

Russell: We’ve been in business for 25 years and always had a social responsibility as one of our core business values. A couple of years around, we have repositioned strongly around building brands for purpose driven companies which we define as those organizations that have a product, a service or a business model that benefits a society or the environment. Going a little bit deeper on the positioning, we’ve got a special expertise in branding, digital marketing and public relations, then we’ve got category experience and food, healthy living, and technology.   

Mark: You’ve really changed a lot even the past 3 years, you’ve refined quite a bit.

Russell: Yes we’ve been all over the map, how is that? You’ve hoist your sail and the wind starts blowing or dies and you adjust from there. We started out more on the high tech sector and I think we finally got to our expertise, passion, and the market opportunities is around that purpose driven organizations.

Mark: Right, beautiful. There are some basic stats, 2000 contacts, 2 to 3 emails per month sent to those contacts, 5 to 7 indexible articles, you are creating a lot of content. A whole lot of content. How many full time do you have now Russ?

Russell: We have 11 people.

Mark: 11 full time. Crux has a few less. Let’s see, FARM has I think 6 times that or so and that’s an important point I want to mention. Three different agencies, three very differently staffed agencies and the head count has absolutely no bearing on how effective you can be with this. We’ve got one-person firms who’ve nailed this and we have 300 plus person agencies that nail this. Having more people doesn’t make it any easier. That the two real most fundamentally necessary ingredients to having success with this sort of marketing are one, a commitment to your own marketing and two, having something to say. That being said Russ, you’ve worked hard. You’ve put a lot of investment into this haven’t you?

Russell: Yeah, I guess I purposely did not keep track of hours because I wouldn’t want to know exactly what the investment has been. The good thing there is, we’ve had fantastic results with it so the hours that go into it are paying off in spades.

Mark: That’s it. It’s if the investment makes sense, then you keep doing it. What did marketing use to look like? Let’s rewind to prior to 3 years ago. What were you doing?

Russell: Probably like just about any of the agencies on the call. You do some PR, you do some direct marketing, you work your references and relationships and hope for the best. We are in Boise which is a small market. We have a very specialized positioning, so ultimately you have to tighten that positioning and take your show to the web rather than the old paradigm so that’s what we did. Fortunately, I knew you and Newfangled, I’d heard enough success stories that I thought, “Okay, we’re going to go all in on this.” 

Mark: That one point is huge and that’s one of the main benefits of this approach to marketing. Is radically expanding the geographic reach and all 3 firms on this webinar have experienced that. As you mentioned with your positioning, which you are deeply committed to on a personal level and which the firm’s committed to, there’s just not enough work in your local market to support and agency of 11 people doing just that kind of work. 

Russell: No, absolutely not. We have a great client roster that ranges everything from doing packaging work for a Whole Foods market which is a mission driven organization to working with Hewlett Packard on their planet partners of sustainability program and that’s … As far as expanding the road beyond Boise, over the course of the last year, I’ve had discussions with entrepreneurs in Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Malta. Nothing has resulted from that, but I think you know everything is a first step. We’ve actually acquired business from a company in California that’s six figures, we’ve just got an account that’s multinational with US operations headquarters in Pennsylvania. That’s six figures in business. I think we are on the cusp of getting another six figure client from Virginia. Last year we were runner up for$ 2,000,000 account out of South Carolina and just this morning I got an email from somebody who’s been on the website saying, “Hey, we absolutely love you. Would you be interested with working with a large national non profit on cause marketing?” 

Mark: Oh, yeah. That’s great.

Russell: Yeah, maybe.

Mark: That’s when our life over at Newfangled is really really really good because this is what we get to do. We get to help people like you, Jill, Ashley, John, Gregg do this. That’s our world. That’s how we … That’s our business and to hear people like you tell stories like that is heartwarming to say the least. I just love that. That’s a lot, you just rattled off quite a bit. Geographic reach obvious has been radically broadened but you are spending a lot of time on it. What’s the future look like? Now that you’ve really solidified this and it’s part of your culture, it’s how you market, it has a lot to do with how you sell, what does it look like two years in the future?

Russell: Two years in the future, I think we’ll even tighten our positioning a little bit more around one of those categories that right now in mind. It be might be around food or health, healthy living and then I think the next frontier for us is to start incorporating a podcast and video as far as our web content goes.

Mark: Yeah, I love both those things. Again the theme of continually narrowing the positioning, which happens every two different years. It seems like the funnel tightens a little bit for the average agency once they do start down this path, but also yeah the idea of platform diversification. Now you’ve got blogs and white papers is great but you are getting into these other formats, I think is really important. A healthy diversity of content platforms is key and that’s been a theme that we’ve heard throughout. We just heard from Jill and Ashley and they were talking about a really great approach for an agency of their size, which allows them to have departments in each of their category deliverables which are many expertise houses inside of Farm. They are able to create content as a group. They are almost like six different companies all bubbling up content. You don’t have the manpower to support that with 11 full time employees. How did you make this happen with a firm of your size? How did that come together?

Russell: Initially, when we filled up the old content on the website, I did a ton of the writing but from there we broadened. We have a core team of a project manager who manages the editorial calendar and monthly meetings. We slate content out 3 months in advance. We have another editor who works on the primary team and then we have somebody who’s working on SEO. Not only keywords to insert into the content work that we are writing but actually doing some advanced work and looking out there and saying, “Hey what is it that our target clients are asking out there?” Whether they want to know about we actually shape content around them. I guess we have 11 people and probably 9 of the 11 have actually participated in written blogs and we’re fortunate like a couple of the other agencies here. We have some talented writers.

Mark: Yeah, 9 out of 11 percentage wise that might be a record for our client base, that’s a lot. Well, I guess Crux is similar and also the individuals there as well are contributing, which is great. When that happens, when a prospect shows up to the site they see they see okay, this is just not a one intelligent person. This is a group of smart people who know what they’re doing and that is so much more powerful. Sends a more powerful message than an individual who is supported by a team of others.

Russell: It makes you far smarter about your positioning and I’ll echo what Gregg says, our conversion rates has gone through the roof over the last couple of years.

Mark: Yeah, you’ve seen that too?

Russell: Yeah, people are pretty predisposed to want to pick us after they’ve been through the website.

Mark: Right, Dave Currie from The List and I did an event at the Mirren CEO Summit last fall, and one of the main themes that Dave was really hitting on throughout our talk together was that most agencies spend 70% of their time on sales and 30% at most on marketing and his argument was to flip that. 70 to 80% on marketing, and 20 to 30% on sales and that’s what all three firms on this webinar are doing. They’re really investing deeply in marketing so that the sales side is much more straight forward because people are predisposed here, thinking or already interested in educated as to what you do and how they might hire you.

Russell: Oh yeah, you bet. I can’t tell you how many conversations we open up with where our prospective clients says, “Hey, we absolutely love your firm so …” That makes things easier, it’s not me trying to knock down door with a resisting client.

Mark: Right, and that’s become seemingly impossible like you don’t knock down doors anymore.

Russell: No, you don’t.

Mark: It’s now that this is not really the alternative, it’s really the only viable option that we know of. That’s why we do this because it seems to us that it’s the most direct way of actually generating business. Stories like this help to encourage us in that way. Well, let’s move to Q&A so if you can stay on, the video and the audio. If everyone’s could just join back in, we’ll have a little Brady Bunch here. We’ll move on to Q&A, so if you have questions, go ahead and post them here. We’ve a lot got a bunch to start it. Let’s see if anybody …does anybody figure out what Russ and I have I common? You can figure out by just looking at us. Okay, Bob McGinnis you win. Russ and I are wearing the same glasses. Russ is a fashion mogul and a trendsetter and we for many years belonged to the same agency peer group. I had the deep honor of spending time with Russ every six months for almost six years.

Last year I saw him and he’s wearing these awesome glasses and I said, “Do you mind if I buy those glasses and we have the same glasses?” He didn’t even care so, thanks Russ. I appreciate our leadership on that front.

Russell: They look better on Mark than they do on me.

Mark: Not, not, not at all. We’re both not good models here. Okay, let’s get into Q&A, let’s start from the top. Rusty want to know Crux, did you guys work with Blair Enns?

John: We didn’t work with him specifically but we’ve gone to a number of the seminars and things that he had put on with David Baker.

Mark: Got it, so you’ve been exposed to that Win Without Pitching way of thinking?

John: Correct, I’ve read a lot of the articles and the things that he’s published and his philosophy resonated with myself and my business partner. We’ve taken on quite a bit of that approach.

Mark: I should mention like the broader ecosystem of this, on the positioning side you’ve got the consultants like Brent Hodgins from Mirren and Tim Williams from Ignition, David Baker from Recourses and Blair Enns from Win Without Pitching. They do a great job of getting agencies aligned initially in a positioning front and strategy front, especially on David Baker’s side. Making sure agencies run in a fundamentally sound way and then companies like Newfangled worry about the marketing piece, but then Blair he’s really a sales consultant. He helps agencies close those leads as they come in and in a way that is really effective. All of us are saying complementary things like all these systems really do work pretty well together. Let’s see, one more question for you guys at Crux. Do you segment your email lists for content distribution or does all the content go to everybody on the list?

John: Well, we actually do segment our lists, sometimes we’ll send the same email out but we segment the list and do different campaigns. I can see basically open and click for people that are engaged in our business versus people that might be new or off of our purchase list. In the beginning, we bought a list and then sent email to that and then we had our own list as well. I would like to see based on the emails that we’ve purchased versus the ones that we have organically, which perform better and were  getting the most open send clicks.

Mark: Okay, great and now that’s really helpful. This is a question for everybody and this question has actually come up for everybody, I believe. Everyone is curious where you’re all getting all these contacts. Are these all organic opting contacts or what? The contacts on the email list.

Jill: A lot of ours were organic throughout the years, relationship building but then we also did buy several thousand names from The List. That’s an organization that’s specifically looks for marketing decision makers so it’s a perfect fit for us to buy some names from there.

Mark: From The List, yeah. TheListInc.com, Dave Currie, the guy I mentioned who I spoke with at the Mirren conference, he’s the CEO of that organization. We’re big fans of theirs. They don’t have the contacts or every industry, but they do have really high quality contacts. If they have contacts for your industry, we definitely highly recommend them and their price is great and they’re really good.

Ashley: They’re really good for more of the B2C side if you like. On the B2B side we actually work with Zoom Info. We’ve just recently started working with them and building more of like the B2B side of things and really a list on there.

Mark: Okay, great. Anyone else wants to talk about list acquisition or list building?

Russell: Same.

Mark: The List?

Russell: Yeah, The List and the organic.

Mark: Yep

John: The only thing I would say is that, one thing that we’ve noticed over the last year is that our sign-ups. We have a point of view or email sign-up on our website that was very small when we started and it has more than doubled since we started. That’s just people signing up to get our content so that’s been good too.

Russell: What do you attribute that too?

John: Good content. I don’t know, I think it’s probably more awareness. Looking at the list, we do have what I would say colleagues in the business that are just kind of trying to see what we’re doing. That type of thing or competitors so there’s some of that as well. Then we had our own list that we put in there that as clients and some things that we had worked with. That’s kind of where our foundation list is.

Gregg: Yeah, we have a process now when we met with a new client, if they’re not our list, we just go ahead and add them automatically. It has obviously helped increase the size of the list as well.

Mark: Yeah, we do the same thing now also, that’s really good move. Okay, so another question here, how do each of your agencies balance the time required for content creation against the development of clients specific proposals? Basically, how do you balance your investment and basically the RFP process versus the content creation process?

Gregg: We cut out people’s PTO.

Mark: Perfect, that’s the answer.

John: Well, I would say from our perspective, we rarely respond to an RFP. We generally will just provide an estimate or we’ll respond in a way that we feel is appropriate to respond to it. Typically, in a big RFP situation for us, there’s more things than we would want to do anyway, so we wouldn’t want to do any branding work or any kind of that stuff that will come along with large website implementation. We just generally propose on the components that we want.

Mark: Right, how about on FARM side?

Jill: It’s always a constant struggle, but all of the things that we have to do, time management is always something that everyone can do better. We made the content development part of everyone’s week, so every week we want to publish two articles. It’s just something that has to happen every week, where RFPs are special projects that come in and out so we make time for those like any other special project. We do the articles just like we would do a Monday morning meeting or something that happens on weekly basis. If you treat it as business as usual instead of something extra, then it just becomes part of your week. 

Mark: Yeah, and a lot different ways of approaching this but the main theme, and this goes back to that, 70 to 80% of your common marketing, 20% to 30% on sales is that, the more you market this way the more leverage you have in the buy-seller relationship. The choosier you can be, you’re not beholden to the RFP process. If you want to participate you can, but you don’t have to anymore. 

John: I think too, having a publishing calendar helps. That’s what we do, have a thing posted to one of our base campsites and just says, who’s doing the article or who’s doing the article and if someone really gets busy, you can move things around. Somebody can take a week off if they need to and then we have a few articles that you always, that’s how it works.

Mark: Yeah, that’s nice. As a follow up to the whole purchase list things, a lot of questions coming in about anti-spam and can’t spam and everything else. There are other webinars on our site that deal specifically as a deep and important topic, but suffice it to say, if you’re a positioned expert and you’re creating real thought leadership content and you’re sending to a specific list and you’re doing it in certain way, it’s entirely above board as long as you’re using the right tool. There are number of tools that forbid you from using it, you can never use HubSpot for this kind of approach. You can never use Pardot for this kind of approach. There are tools that you can use with this approach, completely above board, entirely legal and obviously incredibly effective. Most all the agencies we work with, including the three of you all, started with a rather small list and that outbound activity to a very large group of people (but an accurate group of people) is critical to all these. If you’re going to grow purely organically from few hundred to a few thousand, it’s going to take about 8 years.

Nobody really has the time to do that so a purchased list is a key element of this, but you can only do it if you’re really subscribing to all of these methodologies including positioning and really being an expert in creating the right kind of content. There are a lot of things that need to be in play. One last question before we break, has anyone explored contracting with content developers? Has anyone tried to get this content outside of the firm or do you do it internally?

Russell: We do it all internally here, we haven’t had a need to yet. I would explore that of course, it seems like it might be a little hard to find somebody who has the expertise that we possess already and plus we’d like to acquire the new learnings ourselves.

Mark: Right yeah, acquiring the new learnings, I like that. It’s something I came up during the Crux interview as well. Just the fact of writing about what you know, increases your mastery of that topic and that’s key. Has anyone else tried outsourcing content development for your own marketing?

John: No.

Jill: We’ve not. We’ve not on that.

Ashley: It’s important to like use our people because they’re the one that are … They have that knowledge and they have the insights. I think it helps them too with their clients, to be able to help people to share the content that they produce on their social sites. Then also with their clients and that helps them look like an industry thought leader as well. Increases their knowledge with their client work as well.

Mark: Absolutely, and another key element of this relates to what many of you mentioned. This idea that your close rate is higher and the close rate is higher because they discover you through the site and they learn about you and they learn about your tone. There’s a lot of trust and awareness built there and then they pick a phone and call you and that bar is held high. It maintains at a high level. If you had an external person creating a content and they called and they is a drop off in terms of knowledge and expertise or even tone, that would be a problem. I’ll go out of limb and say that they is no good way to do that. The expertise has to come from inside the firm and they’re a thousands of reasons to do it that way and they’re thousands of reasons to not actually go with an external content production house. It’s hard, but it’s really the table stakes in order to market in this way. Any closing thoughts any of you would like to offer before we rap up here? 

Ashley: We’re open to any questions if people have other questions, we would be happy to answer anything or talk to anyone. 

Mark: Great, all right. Jill and Ashley are accessible through the FARM website, Russ through the Oliver Russell website and John and Gregg through the Crux website. You can see all the names and content information on the screen right now so listen, thank you all so much. I really really enjoyed this, I so appreciate the time you invested in this. I know there are couple hundred people who are on this webinar and are also appreciative. You’re very generous with information, you’re really candid, you didn’t pull any punches and I appreciate it. Lots of value, thank you so much.